Three Leadership Lessons from Nearly Getting My Arms Broken

On a weekly basis, I get folded into a pretzel practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It’s complex ground-fighting that - to the average spectator - looks like two sweaty people rolling around in pajamas. 

It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and continue to do. BJJ is both physically and emotionally exhausting. It’s grueling and humbling, intricate and beautiful, and worth all of the time and energy I’ve invested. Here are some key leadership lessons I’ve learned from the “Gentle Art”:


ken-jacare-team-link-ludlow.jpgClearly about to takedown UFC Middleweight Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. Credit to Marco Alvan & Team Link Ludlow circa 2008.


Never Stop Learning

A common observation in grappling circles goes like this: “I’ve never lost. I either win or I learn." 

There are so many nuances to understand and absorb. It seems daunting and overwhelming. But, that doesn’t stop me from trying. 

My approach will always be evolving. It’s not the same today as it was yesterday or as it was last week, month, or year. The more I investigate, the more I appreciate the journey there.


Find Comfort in Being Uncomfortable

A visiting black belt professor once said to our class, “Jiu-Jitsu is easy. You make it hard.”

Jiu-Jitsu is an inherently uncomfortable sport. If either person executes his preferred strategy, someone will inevitably end up in some really unpleasant situations. Your rhythm will be disrupted. You will feel intimidated and helpless at certain points. 

There is no better opportunity to improve as a leader than being tasked to make difficult decisions with varying consequences for different stakeholders. Finding clarity and maintaining composure amidst pressure-filled situations is the result of repeated ventures into uncertainty. 

Understanding the sport (or any endeavor) is about understanding yourself, your behaviors, your biases, and your goals. 


5x World Champion Bernardo Faria toying with me. Credit to Ground Units BJJ.



Nobody Becomes a Black Belt Alone

There is one teammate I've always dreaded sparring because I can't do a single thing to him. It feels demoralizing in some ways; the sensation of being steamrolled into the floor again and again, only minutely improving each time.

However, my defense wouldn't be what it is without his relentless tenacity. In fact, I wouldn't be where I am without my teammates and coaches. They push me to better my abilities. 

As an entrepreneur and leader, you can't control everything. You will need collaborators to reach new heights and a support network to withstand the lows. You will inevitably manage other people, their processes, and the intersection of expectations (yours and theirs). 

Remember, you started somewhere. Never forget those that helped you along the way.


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